A Non-surgical Method for Sexing Starlings


A Letter from Dr. Lester Short Mr. Lindholm,

Per yourWatchbird articles on starlings [Vol. XX, No. 5, 56-57}, NB.,

1. As Prof Dr. Fritz Merkel long ago found in the European Starling, males have a fully black gape. The female gape is pale, yellowy, pink, dusky, grey, but not black. This holds for all starlings known to me· in East Africa, including the Superb Spreo superbus, and Hildebrandt's S. hildebrandti, which we handle often. From the time the eyes begin paling from juvenile dark, the sex is apparent. Glossy Starlings Lamprotornis (for example, Blue-eared L. chalybeaus and Rueppell's Long-tailed L. pupuropterus) and the Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio also show this.

2. The Superb is the abundant Nairobi Starling and is closely associated with humans. It's in no more risk than are the people among whom it lives. (Tbe Red-winged Starling also breeds in Nairobi.)

Watchbird has been a happy surprise to me, lots of information on incubation periods, habits, etc.


Lester Short

(Lamont Curator, American Museum of Natural History)


The information on visually determining sex in starlings, presented in the accompanying communication from Dr. Lester Short, has not, to my knowledge, been previously published in any avicultural journal. Until now, with the exception of the several species with pronounced differences in male and female plumage, identifying the sex of captive starlings has been generally achieved surgically or, time and circumstance permitting, through behavioral observation.

In a subsequent conversation, Dr. Short suggested that this observation may possibly apply to a major proportion of the more than 100 Sturnid species or, at least, as Dr. Short has qualified, "to those more or less 'typical starlings.'"

Dr. Short defines the "gape" as "the open mouth, i.e. the fleshy parts inside the mouth seen only when it is opened." He goes on to reveal the biological significance of the differences in gape color; "The point is that 'gaping' displays, even simple 'showing' of the mouth ('gape') when opening it to call at a nearby bird, expose the color, depending upon the behavioral situation. If there is a sexual difference, then the displays are added to, or subtracted from, aggressively or in courtship, by the color."

Aviculturists are in the fortuitous position of being able to contribute towards a more clear and concise understanding of this situation, one that will certainly facilitate our husbandry of these birds and their conservation.

It would be most appreciated if any individual or institution possessing adult specimens of known sex of any species of starling would make note of the color of the gape and forward this information to the author care of Bird Department, Fort Worth Zoological Park, 1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Wo1th, TX 76110.

Photographs of identified birds would also be most welcome as well as information as to the age the adult gape coloration is attained.

Dr. Lester L. Short gained international attention in 1986 for bis confirmation of the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba. Dr. Sho11 is the acknowledged authority on woodpeckers, honeyguides, barbets and toucans, the families that comprise the higher Piciformes. His monograph of the World's Woodpeckers, published over a decade ago, remains the definitive work on these birds and he is presently co-authoring, with his wife (Bioacoustician and Senior Research Fellow in Ornithology at the National Museum of Kenya) Jennifer Horne, another, covering the latter three families, the first to do so in the twentieth century. He and Horne are thus frequently in the field, especially in East Africa, conducting behavioral and ecological research. They are also involved in avian conservation there and elsewhere (including Peru). They have not ignored captive resources. In 1992, they spent several days observ- · ing and recording the vocalizations of the world's largest collection of captive toucans at Jerry Jenning's Emerald Forest Bird Gardens in California.

Somehow, Dr. Sho11 has also found time to write his delightful 77Je Lives of Birds, published by Henry Holt in 1993, the first of a series of books on animal behavior, prepared in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Sho11 has a long association with the American Museum, joining the...